Tag Archives: rabbi david twersky

New Square – 21st century shtetl?

7 Aug

Here is a photo-story of a little drive through New Square, in upstate New York.

New Square is a village where ultra-orthodox Skver hasidim make up 100% of the population.

I had been really curious to visit New Square ever since last year when I discovered (and blogged) that women in New Square are not allowed to drive (it being considered immodest, à la Saudi Arabia, for women to get behind the wheel).

The community is a strictly run theocracy, imposing stringent rules of modesty and conduct on all inhabitants. Presiding over the village is the Skver Rebbe, the Grand Rabbi David Twersky, who maintains overall control. Conformity is strongly encouraged, dissent is strongly discouraged.

(In recent times, one dissenter saw the wrath of the community fall on him, when his house was burned down – read here for more details)

When you enter the village (it only has one entrance, so it’s easy to keep track of all comings and goings), there’s a sign up requesting all women to dress modestly.

It is also (in)famous for dividing each side of the street into women-only and men-only pavements/sidewalks.

So here are some pics to give a little taste into life in New Square.

NB: I did feel a bit like a ‘colonial anthropologist’ spying on ‘natives’ going about their business, but curiosity got the better of me… (I did, however, generally avoid taking pictures of any inhabitants).

1) Sign at entrance to the village reminding people of modesty requirements of the locale:

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2) Sign on tree – in pink (of course) – written in Yiddish reminding all passers-by that only WOMEN may walk on this side of the street:

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3) Sign on tree – in blue of course – written in Yiddish reminding all passers-by that only MEN may walk on this side of the street:

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4) Very cute children playing outside their house. One thing you notice in New Square is that very young children seem  free to wander around at liberty in front of their houses and in the street – is this unheard of in 21st century America?

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5) The turreted epicentre of New Square – the central synagogue where the Skver Rebbe holds court.

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6) Gleaming Refuah health centre just outside entrance to the village. Women and men have separate waiting rooms in the centre, and in the women’s waiting room, reading material is limited to copies of orthodox women’s magazines, while the reading fare in the men’s includes copies of the Gemarah (Talmud) and Mishnah (holy books that only men may study – women are not granted access to these).

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